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Starlites FIJO win back-to-back men’s championships

Starlites captain Alec Felice Pace lifts the Men's Championship trophy ahead of his teammates. Photo: Stephen Christopher Vella

Starlites FIJO retained the league championship trophy after closing a clean sweep in the championship series against Mellieha Libertas with yet another century win in game three on Thursday.

This game brought a close also to the Men Division 1 season with Starlites managing to raise four of the available five trophies this season after earlier successes in the season-opening Super Cup, the MBA Shield, and BOV KO.

The other seasonal honour, the Louis Borg Cup was won by Mellieha Libertas who will surely be asking the what-if question right now since they had to do without an import player, Connor Zinaich, who led the team until his unfortunate injury in late February.

Mellieha Libertas 91

Starlites FIJO 113         

(18-28, 21-18, 32-38, 20-29)

Mellieha had a very early positive start as a brace of hoops from Vukasin Jandric (48% shooting, 11 rebounds) and Nenad Bukva (six rebounds) gave them their only lead in the game, 4-1.

A 12-0 streak made the lead change hands and gave psychological impetus to Starlites with Darius George (69% accuracy, seven rebounds, three assists) commencing with a trey followed by a hoop and then captain and championship finals MVP, Alec Felice Pace (71% accuracy and five assists) netting his first two hoops on the day and Zekiah Owens (85% shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists) landing his first of a series of dunks for 13-4.

Mellieha tried to limit the damage and had points off Jandric, Isaac Bonett, and David Bugeja (five boards, five assists, 67% accuracy) as well as Sebastian Valencia (nine rebounds) three-ball, but the Naxxar side always managed an instant reply at the other end with Matt Attard also scoring his first of four treys in this game.

Starlites, who had to do without their young international Matthew Scerri who unfortunately tore his ACL in Game 2 and will be out for quite a lengthy period, maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter with Jacob Bates (six rebounds, four assists) also providing his offensive contribution, yet a late five-point run, through Robert Bonnici and Bukva, helped Mellieha to reduce the deficit to seven points, 39-46, at the interval.

The second half commenced at a fast pace and Mellieha managed to come within five points of their rivals, as Bugeja and Valencia had a brace of baskets respectively and Bonnici landed a long-ranger. However, Starlites’ dagger came from long distance as Felice Pace (five of seven trey attempts) netted two in a row and George scored a similar three-ball shortly afterwards.

A couple of backcourt turnovers did not help Mellieha either as Owens and Bates made them suffer with turnover points and Starlites were now back with a considerable lead, 69-55.

Despite Mellieha’s efforts, including five points off Miguel Falzon, the neo-champions kept their positive point buffer as Attard and Felice Pace continued raining treys, and Ian Felice Pace ended with a team-high eight assists.

There was a last attempt by Mellieha at the start of the last quarter to claw back into the game with the side led by the Bugeja/Jandric tandem but Starlites did not allow any surprises and a mid-quarter 10-0 run, not only put them over the century mark, but also made the game a foregone conclusion as the gap between the sides increased to 25 points, 104-79.

The last minutes were practically a formality with Starlites awaiting the final game buzzer to celebrate the league success.

Following the game, MBA president Paul Sultana and the representative from the league’s sponsors BOV, Stefan Abela, presented the Starlites squad with the winning medals whilst Alec Felice Pace received the MVP award, before the same Starlites’ skipper raised the league trophy amidst the jubilations of all the Starlites clan.

Mellieha: M. Falzon 5, D. Bugeja 22, R. Bonnici 17, V. Jandric 23, I. Bonett 4, N. Bukva 4, N. Jovanovic 6, M. Formosa 4, O. Said , S. Valencia 16

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 28, Z. Owens 28,  M. Attard 13, J. Bates 13, I. Felice Pace 2, M. Fabri, L. Riolo 2, R. Carabott 1, L. Farrugia,  K. Xuereb 1, N. Sultana, D. George 25

Referees: B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, J. Londono

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